Gillum Concedes Florida Governor’s Race, Scott Headed to Senate

(CN) – Buoyed by the support of President Donald Trump and unprecedented turnout, Republicans narrowly won Florida’s top statewide offices on Tuesday.

Former congressman Ron DeSantis will serve as governor as outgoing Gov. Rick Scott heads to the U.S. Senate.

The races showed deep divides of the electorate in this swingiest of swing states. The state’s election season mirrored the mood nationally with record-breaking fundraising, massive voter turnout, relentless negative campaigning and the looming presence of Trump.

Florida Democrats hoped for a blue wave, but instead found themselves narrowly bested by Republicans aligned with the president.

Scott’s win over three-term incumbent Bill Nelson helps cement Republican’s control of the Senate.

Republican Ron DeSantis, a Trump acolyte who largely campaigned on national issues, narrowly eked out a win by an estimated 80,000 votes. He held his celebration in an Orlando hotel ballroom.

By contrast, Democrat Andrew Gillum conceded the governor’s race to hundreds of supporters gathered outside on the campus of Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, a historically black university in Tallahassee.

“We didn’t win this transaction tonight,” said Gillum, the city’s mayor and a FAMU alumnus. “And it is a transaction, because what we believe in still holds true today.”

“I want to encourage you not to give up,” he said. “I still plan to be on the front lines along with every single one of you.”

Despite fierce thunderstorms earlier in the evening that sent supporters and press scrambling for cover, Gillum’s supporters remained positive throughout the night.

Terry McQueen, a 20-year-old attending FAMU, sported an “I voted” sticker as he walked into Gillum’s event with a group of friends.

“He’s a rattler,” McQueen said, referring to the school’s mascot. “He’s black. He has the power and the platform to be the first black governor of Florida.”

McQueen’s main issue was Gillum’s promise to raise wages for teachers across the state.

“As the child of an educator, I have no reason not to stand for that,” he said. “As someone studying to become an educator myself, I have no reason not to stand for that.”

McQueen allowed for the possibility of a Gillum loss.

“If it doesn’t happen, at least he tried,” he said.

Heather Chapman and Tracy Merlin, who traveled six hours to attend the event, said they would not be deterred by Gillum’s loss. The two said their activism will continue.

“It will only amplify,” said Merlin, a teacher in Broward County.

“I need state mandates that are funded,” she said, referring to the need to adequately fund education in the state. “We’ve had 20 years of unfunded mandates.”

“We hold our politicians accountable,” Chapman added. “We go to D.C. and Tallahassee … Personally I’m going to be at the school board meetings.”

Chapman became heavily-involved after the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which her daughter attends.

“For me, the main thing is to keep the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act,” Chapman said, referring to the school safety bill passed after the shooting.

She met Gillum personally and asked him to keep the legislation and maybe improve on it. He agreed, she said.

“From then on, I was sold,” she said.

In contrast to the heavy rain in North Florida, Miami voters headed to the polls in sunshine.

Voters at the West Dade Regional Library, who seemed to be greatly divided between the two main political parties, started arriving early to their precinct. The line moved fairly fast with little or no wait time at all.

“I’m probably going to vote Democratic all the way down the line,” said Marco Espinosa, a Cuban American.

Espinosa, 59, said that we need a government with transparency and some dignity.

“The reason why I’m voting Democratic all the way, which it’s the first time I do that, is because I’m very disappointed at everything that’s been done during the last two years,” he added.

On the other hand, Mireya Del Carmen Barrera, a U.S. citizen born in Panama, said that she supports all the Republican candidates.

“I have seen more positive changes in the Republicans than with the Democrats,” said Barrera.

Healthcare, education and equality were the main issues that the South Florida voters believed are affecting their community and the country as a whole.

Daisy Grovas, a tax accountant, said that she voted for Republican Ron DeSantis.

”I believe that healthcare needs to personalized,” she said. “I think that this is what is affecting American citizens the most. We need a candidate that focuses on this … because this is the handicapped of the whole nation.”

South Florida voters turned out in record numbers before polls opened on Tuesday.

”Before Election Day even happened we had almost 39% voter turnout between early voting and vote by mail, which is a great number,” said Robert Rodriguez, spokesman for the Miami-Dade County Elections Department. “Especially when you compare it to 2014 when the total was 40% overall.”

Maria Sandoval, a 39-year-old Miami resident, said she had no problems voting.

“I filled out my ballot at home, which gave me time to read and review all the options,” she said.

When asked if she belonged to any political party, Sandoval said that she did not belong to any party, but that she was inclining to vote for the Democrats.

“I want to see a change,” she said. “I want the hate and discrimination between the races and cultures to be stopped. This is my main worry.”

Ivan Rincon, 35, was misinformed and went to the wrong precinct.

However, Rincon said that he was not discouraged, so he left the West Kendall Regional Library to drive to his assigned polling center.

“I’m looking to vote for the governor,” Rincon said. “And I was actually mainly concern on the amendments and referendums.”

Healthcare, education and equality were the main issues that the South Florida voters believed are affecting their community and the country as a whole.

Daisy Grovas, a tax accountant, said that she voted for Republican Ron DeSantis.

”I believe that healthcare needs to be personalized,” she said. “I think that this is what is affecting American citizens the most. We need a candidate that focuses on this … because this is the handicapped of the whole nation.”

Outside a polling location in Jupiter, Florida, Betty Wolpert said immigration policy was a key issue for her in the election and contributed to her decision to vote for Nelson. The daughter of Greek immigrants, the West Palm Beach resident said she supports citizenship for the Dreamers.

“I don’t think anyone should go through that kind of uncertainty. These are people who are in college, people who are working, people who have businesses, have families,”  she said. “Both sides of Congress need to come together and act maturely to find a solution.”

Wolpert said she wants to see political attack ads nixed altogether, and replaced with debate airings. She said she is disillusioned by the polarization in the political climate.

“We need to stop this whole tribalism and come together to find middle ground,” she said.

Monica Pais and Izzy Kapnick contributed to this report.

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